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Off B’way catches ‘Bug’

Prod'n reunites 'Joe's' Plummer, Shannon

At least one Off Broadway producer believes it can be 1998-99 all over again.

Scott Morfee brings Tracy Letts’ new play “Bug” to the Barrow Street Theater next month for an open-ended commercial run. The operative words here are “play” and “commercial.” Can the two coexist in the brave new Off Broadway world of 2003-04?

The “Bug” production reunites Amanda Plummer and Michael Shannon, who also headlined Letts’ first play, “Killer Joe,” produced six years ago by Morfee and one of the few plays in recent memory to recoup Off Broadway.

“The 1998-99 season was tremendous for Off Broadway,” Morfee recalled. In addition to “Killer Joe,” he cited such commercial hits as “Wit” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” “I hope the Off Broadway business model is still viable,” he added.

Despite the intervening four seasons, the $300,000 capitalization for “Bug” replicates what it cost to put up “Killer Joe.” Both plays employ a five-actor ensemble. Described as a sci-fi thriller set in a mysterious motel, “Bug” follows a woman on the lam from her former husband, recently released from prison. Amy Landecker and Reed Birney are also featured. Dexter Bullard directs.

“Bug” previews begin Feb. 21, with the opening set for Feb. 29 at the Barrow Street. Formerly known as the Greenwich House, the 99-seat venue had been home to the Drama Department for many years. Morfee now has the lease and will expand seating capacity to 199 for the “Bug” run. He produces the show with Amy Danis and Mark Johannes.

Drama drought

“Bug” is that rare respite in Off Broadway’s ongoing drama drought.

Despite enhancement money from Daryl Roth and Roy Gabay, “The Long Christmas Ride Home” by Paula Vogel is not making the commercial transfer from the Vineyard to an Off Broadway house. Gotham’s smaller commercial theaters are eschewing plays in favor of novelty shows, such as “Cookin’,” which goes into the Minetta Lane, and musicals like “The Joys of Sex,” opening at the Variety Arts, and “Johnny Guitar,” skedded for Center for the Performing Arts. The Union Square Theater remains empty.

Otto Eskin’s play “Duet” at the Greenwich Street Theater may be the proverbial exception that proves the rule. On the strength of tepid reviews and somebody’s deep pockets, producer-director Ludovica Vilar-Hauser wants to take the play to Broadway’s Circle in the Square. If financing can be finalized, “Duet” looks to open there in early April.

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